For the first Elevator Pitch of the new year, we're spotlighting a guy who's taking on a new challenge. Bobby Franklin was named head of the National Venture Capital Association in the fall, replacing 20-year NVCA veteran Mark Heesen.
Franklin, a longtime Capitol Hill tech lobbyist, was recently in Silicon Valley on a fact-finding tour. Over lunch, he was frank about the learning curve he's facing -- while also sounding eager to dive in.
Q How'd you get into this racket?
A I come to the venture capital community after years working for the telecommunications industry. After having started my career on Capitol Hill in the offices of U.S. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., I represented (wireless carrier) Alltel in Washington, D.C. This was as the telecommunications industry was transitioning to a digital world and building out massive infrastructure to support the widespread use of Internet protocol for all communications.
The next decade saw the rapid expansion of mobile communications and networks, and I jumped at the chance in 2004 to represent the wireless industry as its lobbyist, and then the executive vice president at CTIA-The Wireless Association (headed by former NFL star and U.S. Rep. Steve Largent). The progression to now leading the NVCA was a natural fit, given my previous experience at the intersection of public policy and innovation.
Q What do you like about VC?
A Venture capital has been at the heart of the American innovation economy for more than 50 years, and it continues to be a key driver of the economic and job growth so desperately needed by our country. It's incredibly rewarding working on behalf of the startup ecosystem as growing companies create jobs and add value to our lives.
Moreover, the VCs and entrepreneurs I meet regularly are contagiously optimistic and passionate.
Q What exactly does the NVCA do?
A As the voice of the U.S. venture capital community, the association empowers its members and the entrepreneurs it funds by advocating for policies that encourage innovation and reward long-term investment.
Additionally, we serve as the definitive resource for venture capital data to lawmakers, journalists, academia and other stakeholders. And, at our annual VentureScape meeting, we bring together venture investors and entrepreneurs from across America to help them build their businesses.
Q Why's it important for venture capitalists to have a voice in Washington?
A Whether they're aware or not, all taxpayers have lobbyists protecting various interests. Having worked on Capitol Hill for nearly eight years, I can tell you that senators, congressmen, congresswomen and the staffers that support them cannot possibly be experts on all the industries upon which the laws they pass have a direct impact.
As the recognized voice for the industry, and with a 40-year history behind us, we work to ensure that policymakers are well versed in the issues that impact the innovation ecosystem.
Q The association scored a big win last year by helping get the federal JOBS Act passed. Among other things, it makes it easier for private companies to raise money, and it lets them go through the early stages of going public without having to put their financial information on display. How is the act being felt here in Silicon Valley?
A Certainly, the JOBS Act deserves a ton of credit for improving the "on-ramp" to the IPO markets and creating greater certainty for America's startups to have access to the capital they need for growth. We still have a way to go, but in the valley and elsewhere, we are seeing more companies take advantage of the act's provisions, which has resulted in increased IPO activity.
Q Any broader predictions for the tech industry in 2014?
A We just surveyed hundreds of VCs and venture-backed entrepreneurs and found a healthy majority were optimistic heading into 2014. Most are predicting increased dollars going into the sector; tech valuations perhaps being a bit frothy; and an increased number of tech IPOs.
It is a fascinating time for our industry, but we need a productive Congress to ensure a vibrant startup economy.
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.